OXFORD – Robert Khayat had spent much of his adult life at the University of Mississippi when he became chancellor in 1995. His nominated successor, Daniel W. Jones, has built much of his career in Jackson and is less of a known quantity to folks on and around the Oxford campus.
Those who know him, though, say a host of strengths made it easy for him to be the search committee’s unanimous choice as preferred candidate for the post.
Dr. Jones, 60, is a native Mississippian, a former medical missionary and a researcher and clinician of national prominence. As the university’s vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, he is the chief administrator and fundraiser for the massive University of Mississippi Medical Center campus.
Jones grew up in Vicksburg and graduated from Mississippi College, a Baptist-affiliated school in Clinton. He joined the Ole Miss loyals by attending its Jackson-based medical school and completing an internal medicine residency there. After both private practice and overseas mission work, he joined the UMMC faculty in 1992, where he continued his research of hypertension, a key issue in Mississippi health care.
One of Jones’ chief strengths, in the eyes of the Ole Miss faithful, is his already being part of “the family.”
“He understands the Ole Miss culture, traditions, challenges and opportunities,” said Alumni Association President Rose Flenorl. “He’s simply passionate about Ole Miss.”
Jones said one of his biggest contributions to Ole Miss’ culture will be the inclusion of his wife.
“The people in the university family in Oxford will like Lydia far more than they’ll like me,” he speculated. “She is a warm and gracious person, an anchor in my life. She will play a visible role in the life of the university and north Mississippi. Our home on the campus will be a gathering place.”
Jones says his motivations – professional and personal – stem from the principles of his faith.
“Like many Mississippians, I had the privilege of growing up in a home where faith was central,” he said. “I hope, as people see the negatives in my life, that they’ll also see glimpses of my desire to serve others.”
After finishing medical school, Jones entered private medical practice in Laurel. From 1985 to 1992, he, his wife and their two now-grown children lived in South Korea, where he was a medical missionary at Wallace Memorial Baptist Hospital.
Khayat, who ends his 14-year stint June 30, highlights Jones’ success as a teacher, practitioner, researcher and administrator.
“His selection as president of the American Heart Association is an indication of the level of respect he enjoys from his medical colleagues across the nation. He also is a man of impeccable integrity,” Khayat added. “For all these reasons, I believe he is the perfect choice to lead the University of Mississippi.”
One oft-repeated concern is whether Khayat’s tenure, which saw unprecedented growth in people, programs, facilities, endowment and national standing at Ole Miss, will impede the next chancellor. Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council, said Jones will make the most of the university’s progress under Khayat.
“Dr. Jones has consistently demonstrated his ability to build on the work of the past, while innovating for the future,” Wilson said.
Assuming his June 15 meetings with campus constituencies go well, Jones also will come into the job July 1 with a strong understanding of the role of research in the university.
Dr. Alice Clark, vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, said he “is an exceptional educator, scholar and public servant who is dedicated to improving the lives of Mississippians.”
Consensus and decisiveness
Jones has a reputation of leading both by consensus and with decisiveness.
“Before any major decision, he consults with as many stakeholders as he can,” said Dr. Richard deShazo, chief of UMMC’s Department of Medicine. “By the time he makes a decision, people are ready to support it on the front end.” If consensus is not possible, he said, Jones is willing to make difficult decisions.
“In my 30 years in medicine,” deShazo said, “I’ve never seen anyone with that skill set.”
Even before he allowed himself to be considered for the university’s top post, Jones sought input from friends and colleagues.
“First and foremost, I wanted to hear what people thought about what would be best for the university,” he said, noting the designee would be following “a strong, charismatic leader who is universally loved and respected.
“Anyone contemplating that possibility would be concerned whether their leadership would be appropriate for the university.”
The chancellor-designate said he also will begin his work in Oxford with an open ear.
“There is a deep talent pool at the University of Mississippi among faculty, staff and students, and I look forward to spending time listening to them,” he said.
Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily Journal reporter Patsy Brumfield contributed to this story. Contact her at (662) 678-1596 or email@example.com.
Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal